19 Mar 2023
In the previous sharing on authentic freedom brought to us by Christ, we noted that true love in God is self-giving; in order to find my true self in God, I have to lose myself in loving. Also, true freedom frees me from the bondage to self in order to live responsibly in love for God and others; it is only sacrificial service, the giving of the self in love to God and others, which is perfect freedom.
In the study of the book of Galatians, we see the heart of love for God, His truth, and His children, manifested in the life of Apostle Paul.
Right from the first chapter, Paul stated sincerely his stance:
“Am I now trying to win human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10).
Paul’s love for God, the gospel, and God’s children, is closely tied up with his motive in the service of Christ – there is no question of compromising God’s truth and the gospel in order to please people. We need to understand this as the persisting background in Paul’s writings to the Galatian Christians and to the Judaizers. It helps to explain how he expressed his love for the Galatians in his rebuke of them, in his pleas toward them not to be ‘enslaved’ all over again, in his willingness to even correct his fellow Apostle Peter openly, and in his anguish in saying that he is again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in the Galatian believers. It also is seen in his harsh words to the Judaizers, bordering even in ‘rudeness’, and in his stern warnings to them for preaching the wrong gospel.
But we must not miss the fact that serving God and others might mean often sharing in the sufferings of the Master.
Paul shared the gospel with the Galatians in the midst of an illness, not when it was most convenient, and not in the best possible situation – and the Galatians knew that, and welcomed him and his gospel message. But the situation changed drastically with the coming and input of the Judaizers; the attitude of the Galatians towards Paul changed dramatically to the point that Paul asked, “Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? This probably pained Paul more than his physical illness and illness – imagine the ones you love and care for, turning against you and behaving like an enemy! We would remember how the Lord Jesus Himself was treated by those to whom He came to save. If we seek to love God and people, it might in all probability include often ‘carrying the cross’ and participating in the sufferings of our Lord. If we are afraid to be hurt, then we are afraid to love genuinely.
Paul reminded the Galatian Christians that it is good to be zealous, but they need to make sure that they do so in that which is good and its purpose is always good (Gal. 4:17-18).The sad thing is that those advocating the false gospel and the wrong teachings are more often more zealous than Christians in their quest to stand up for the truth for the sake of Christ and the gospel, and Christians who are deceived also are zealous to reject the truth and treat those who love them as ‘enemies’.
In the conclusion of this epistle, Paul exclaimed, “From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus”. The marks may refer to the scars he received from being beaten 39 times on several occasions at the hands of the Jews in the synagogue, and from the stoning he endured almost to a point of death. But we must not forget that the scars may also refer to the ‘painful scars’ in his heart he had to endure from the harsh and unacceptable treatment he received from those he loved and from those to whom he laboured until Christ is formed in them.
The true servant of God must deny himself, carry his cross daily, and follow the Master all the way to ‘Gethsemane’ and beyond. The path of love for God, for truth, for His people, bears the ‘cross’ and comes from a heart that is prepared to stand with the Master when all others fled.